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Overloaded scaffolding does not meet bar for negligence suit

Posted On: Feb. 27, 2023 10:07 AM CST


An appeals court in New Mexico ruled Thursday that an injured worker’s negligence lawsuit against a contractor regarding construction scaffolding that was overloaded and thus collapsed does not meet the legal bar for a lawsuit outside of exclusive remedy.

Gildardo Camarena suffered permanent and serious bodily injury when a 95-foot-high scaffolding collapsed; he alleged in his lawsuit against his employer Superior Contracting Corp. knew that the scaffolding was overloaded two to four times its capacity with 16 tons of masonry block, according to Camarena v. Superior Contracting Corp., filed in the Court of Appeals of New Mexico.

The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Superior after determining that Mr. Camarena failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact regarding the objective and subjective prongs of the state’s “Delgado test,” which stems from a 2001 decision in Delgado v. Phelps Dodge Chino Inc., which provided parameters on the assertion that an employer willfully injured its employee, thus subjecting it to general tort liability rather than workers comp employer protections.

The district court noted that the argument that the employer was aware of the danger posed by the overloaded scaffolding was predicated on “inferring that… supervisors testified untruthfully at their depositions,” which was an unlawful inference in this case.

The district court determined that, even if Mr. Camarena could establish that supervisors saw that the scaffolding was overloaded, the employers “conduct did not exemplify a degree of egregiousness or conduct.”

The appeals court added that evidence does not demonstrate that the employer “utterly disregarded the consequences” of its choice to send Mr. Camarena up on the overloaded scaffolding and that the record “presents no evidence that a reasonable jury could infer that (the employer) had specific knowledge about the danger or disregarded the consequences of a dangerous situation.”